Scouting Report: Georgia

With Auburn and LSU still remaining on the schedule, Wednesday night's game at Georgia marks the next to last difficult road trip for the Vanderbilt men's basketball team. (Kentucky awaits on March 1.) History says Vanderbilt will lose, but if the Commodores can rise to the occasion, they'll do wonders for their NCAA Tournament seeding.


Let's pick up where we left off: Saturday's victory over Big Blue. While most fans are going to remember John Jenkins' 32-point outing, the Kentucky game was more significant because it may have been Vanderbilt's best demonstration of team offense on the season. Vandy got off on the right foot by repeatedly feeding the ball to Festus Ezeli. As Kentucky began to adjust to his presence, the perimeter opened up for uncontested jump shots. If there is one area of offense the Dores need to improve on, it's Jeff Taylor taking the ball to the hoop. He continues to stand outside the paint and settle for jumpers when his athleticism demands a consistent focus on attacking the rim. He eventually did that and earned a trip to the foul line at one point against Kentucky, but Stallings wants more from him, and Vandy's coach is right to insist on more production from an evidently gifted player.

Brad Tinsley is also showing much improvement in the second half of SEC play. Yes, he committed three turnovers last Saturday, but that is to be expected against the tremendous ball pressure of Kentucky. More importantly, though, Tinsley knocked down some important shots, penetrated the defense, and made some key passes against the Wildcats. It appears he may have his confidence back, something that will be vitally important in the SEC stretch run.

GEORGIA AT-A-GLANCE

Georgia finds itself entering a particularly brutal three-game stretch. After the Dores come to town, the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee and Florida. If they can somehow sweep this stretch, there is a good chance the Dawgs will win the SEC East. More importantly for Georgia fans, winning two of these games should lock up an NCAA Tournament berth.

Georgia is very well coached and balanced. Three players average double figures in scoring, and the team gets rebounding from the entire lineup. Georgia is probably an over-achieving team. It should probably be a year away from NCAA contention, but may very well find itself in this year's field. Mark Fox should be commended for holding his own while competing in the same division as Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, and of course, Vanderbilt.

Starting Lineup

Guard – Dustin Ware –
Junior, 5-11, 182 2010-11: 8.0 ppg, 3.8 apg, .422 3-PT %

Every consistent team has a point guard it can rely on for offensive execution, leadership on the floor, and timely big shots. Georgia has that in Dustin Ware, who owns what is nearly a four to one assist-turnover ratio and is making over 40 percent of his 3-pointers. To his credit, Ware has not tried to force more outside shots, instead allowing the offense to come to him while making it a priority to get his teammates an adequate number of quality shots. The problem when Georgia faced Vandy in the first matchup was Ware's inability to hit timely shots in his own right. Ware was one of nine from the field, finishing with only three points. Expect that shooting to improve with home cooking, so VU cannot take this much improved point guard lightly.

Guard – Travis Leslie – Junior, 6-4, 202; 2010-11: 14.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.8 apg.

Coaches dream about having a two-guard who is the second leading rebounder on the team. That's what Mark Fox has in Travis Leslie. He is an offensive rebounding machine, constantly attacking the glass and giving his team extra possessions. It's a performance level like this that makes the Bulldogs so difficult to beat in Athens. No one knows this better than Kevin Stallings. There is a good chance that whatever tape of Georgia the coaches showed the Vandy team, part of it included the 10 offensive rebounds Leslie grabbed in Memorial Gym, which helped him earn 21 hard-fought points in the season's first meeting between the two schools.

Guard – Gerald Robinson – Junior, 6-1, 180; 2010-11: 12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, .343 3-PT %

Robinson loves to see the black and gold jerseys of Vanderbilt enter the gym. The Nashville native must have a chip on his shoulder against his hometown team. As a freshman at Tennessee State, Robinson scored 24 points in a game against the Commodores. He continued his hot hand when Georgia travelled to Nashville. Robinson hit three 3-pointers to start the game and finished with 20 points. If they weren't aware of him before, you can bet the Dores will be looking for him on Wednesday night. One thing to note: Robinson is not one-dimensional. He is just as likely to set up a teammate as he is to shoot. It is rare for someone to become a better player when hes moves up from the so-called mid-major realm to SEC-level competition, but Robinson has clearly done that.

Forward – Jeremy Price – Senior, 6-8, 264; 2010-11: 9.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg,

Price is the junkyard Dawg of this team. Fox does not run a bunch of plays for Price, but he is still an asset by getting shots from offensive rebounds and late dish-off passes when his man leaves him to help on another player. Price is a glue guy who has helped elevate this Georgia team to potential NCAA Tournament status.

Forward – Trey Thompkins – Senior, 6-10, 245; 2010-11: 16.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg,

Thompkins remains the best player on this Bulldog roster. Dangerously effective within 10 feet of the basket, he has attempted to stretch his outside game, probably to impress the NBA scouts who watch his performances. He tried to do just that in the first go-around with Vandy when he attempted five 3-pointers (making only one). The Dores struggled in keeping him off the boards, however, as he garnered 13 rebounds. Festus Ezeli did a good job of bodying him up inside, holding Thompkins to 13 points, but his offensive rebounding could be problem for VU on a night when Georgia will be playing at home.

Bench

Part of the reason Georgia runs so much zone defense is not due to the talent on the floor, but the lack of talent coming off the bench. Chris Barnes (6-8, Senior, F) and Sherrard Brantley (6-2, Sophomore, G) continue to be the only two Bulldogs who play more than 10 minutes a game. Both average a little over 3.5 points per game.

Keys to the Game

1) Show some road toughness.
Vanderbilt, under Kevin Stallings, has established a growing reputation as a coach's team. What's a coach's team? A team that high school and other college coaches watch to learn strategy. The reputation it has not earned yet is that of a team that will go on the road, go nose-to-nose with an opponent, and get dirty to win a game. How does a team get dirty? Former David Lipscomb head coach Don Meyer used to establish a goal for his teams to set as many illegal screens as possible and to knock down anyone who screened them. This is not to advocate for cheap-shot basketball, but it acknowledges the style of play Mark Fox's team will display. Moreover, it provides a roadmap for going into Georgia's house and winning. I would add to those goals the need to battle for every rebound. Too often for VU, especially in its road affairs, rebounding is something that only the big men are willing to do. Gang rebounding must be a prominent feature of Wednesday night's game.

2) Don't fall in love with the jump shot, especially against Georgia's zone. Nothing exemplified Commodore basketball better than one moment in the first half against Kentucky. Steve Tchiengang caught a pass at the top of the key and was wide open. The crowd began yelling for him to shoot. As luck would have it, Tchiengang then hit two 3-pointers in the same half. That of course is fine when playing in the friendly confines of Memorial Gym. When a team is on the road, though, in a place where every player has not attempted thousands of shots, a team cannot rely on the three. Remembering John Jenkins lighting up Kentucky and facing a team that will play zone at least half the time, it will be tempting to pass around the perimeter and take jump shots. If Vandy is going to prove it is more than an NCAA Tournament one-and-done team, it needs to find ways into the interior of a defense. Against Georgia's zone I would do this by finding ways to utilize Jeffery Taylor at the high post, thus creating a high-low situation with Festus Ezeli.

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